Monday, July 19, 2010

Bromides of the "Big Society"

So Cameron relaunched his "Big Society" propaganda campaign today. The Prime Minister did not so much spell out his proposed changes as semaphore them with a series of nauseating platitudes. We are told, for instance, that he wants "communities with oomph", sounding for all the world as if he's a fucking daytime television motivational guru. He also favours widespread "voluntarism" though sadly not so much in the metaphysical sense as in the sense of people doing for free what public sector workers used to do for a wage. And, of course, he has set his canon against "centralised bureaucracy" in the public services. Eric Pickles MP suggests that the basic aim of the "Big Society" is to "get more for less", a telling turn of phrase that I will allow you to parse for yourselves - but only after you've juxtaposed it with David Cameron's claim that it is "not about trying to save money".

The "Big Society" is an emetic name for an emetic project. It is, above all, a class project, a war with labour over the share of the social product. The contest is being launched on multiple fronts simultaneously. On the one hand, there is the project of accumulation-by-dispossession, an attempt to raid the public sector in a very audacious way and turn its assets into highly profitable enterprises at just the point when most sectors of industry are showing very lacklustre returns, and when companies are reluctant to invest elsewhere. On the other, there is the very naked effort to increase the rate of exploitation, and restore profitability in that fashion, which involves weakening the bargaining power of labour through legislative means but also by weakening the still sizeable public sector unions. Thirdly, there is an attempt to still further reverse the political gains made by the working class, rolling back democracy within the state under the rubric of 'empowerment' and similar new-age managerial bollocks. This is not just a project of the capitalist class with respect to the working class.

It also a programme for the continued hegemony of the financial fraction within the ruling class. Whatever regulations and stabilizing measures emerge to (try to) prevent the financial sector from completely sinking the capitalist system with its next crisis, there is every sign that the ConDems want to maintain the authority of the City as the main driver of growth and consumption. The 'free schools' and 'GP-led' NHS trusts will provide the financiers with an excellent source of raw material for further financial 'innovation', since these costly entities will have to borrow private capital, which borrowing can be repeatedly refinanced, and the debt itself sliced, diced, tranched and repackaged into bundles of debt parcels that can be speculated on - a blue chip investment since the schools and hospitals, though administered for private profit, will be owned by the public and finally maintained at public expense. The construction, manufacturing and service industries will also make a mint out of these, just as their profit margins will continue to be bumped up by their financial investments.

There are grave risks associated with this "Big Society" project, about which more in a later post. Suffice to say, however: the capitalist class is not stupid, and neither are the Tories. They are not merely engaged in an unintelligent or rigidly doctrinal ploy. This is unlikely to restore dynamism to capitalist industry, but there will be rewards from successfully pulling off this project even if it doesn't restore growth, and there is little else coming down the pipeline. The ruling class is not stupid - it is desperate.